Remembering the children of the 1916 Rising

Service honours the 40 previously forgotten children killed in the Rising

Kay Keogh from Ringsend watched the happy scenes at the church door.

The children had been very serious to begin with, concentrating deeply on forming a polite line behind the President.

For this was a very solemn occasion. There were television cameras and everything.

Then President Michael D Higgins, beaming from ear to ear, turned to tell them they were wonderful and lifted his hands in a gesture of applause. He was keen to talk and they were very happy to oblige.


Tentatively at first, the youngsters moved a little closer. Then, bursting with excitement, they went for broke and bunched up around the President and his wife, Sabina.

“Beautiful,” sighed Kay, who lives just around the corner from St Patrick’s Church. She proudly pointed out her granddaughter Katie, who turns 12 on Monday.

“Isn’t it lovely all the same? Lovely to see the children weren’t forgotten . . .”

But she wasn’t referring to the boys and girls from sixth class in the two local schools, now cheerily hobnobbing with the President of Ireland. She was talking about the children who were killed during the 1916 Rising and who, until recently, didn’t even merit a footnote in the voluminous accounts of what happened in those turbulent few days.

An ecumenical service of remembrance was held yesterday morning to honour 40 young lives lost on the streets of Dublin during a week which, as Mr Higgins put it in his address to the congregation, had “profound and tectonic” consequences for modern Ireland.

But the children were “silently mourned” and largely forgotten. They have no direct descendants to speak for them.

In 2012, broadcaster Joe Duffy was asked by the Jack and Jill children's charity to paint an Easter egg. Easter 1916 and children came to mind,

“I began to ask around: ‘How many children were killed then?’ And I couldn’t get an answer,” he says.

Three years on and Joe now has a list of 40 children – three of whom he hasn’t been able to identify yet – and he is still seeking information on possible others.

Unmarked graves

In the meantime, the process of “remembrance and reclamation” continues.

The service in Ringsend was led by Rev Ivan Tonge, who was joined by Church of Ireland canon Barbara Fryday and Fr Michael Scott, both of whom are related to children who were killed in the Rising.

Rev Tonge hoped the occasion would go some way towards breaking the anonymity of those innocents “caught in the crossfire and chaos” of that week, many of whom were buried in unmarked graves with few to mourn them.

Two senior Government Ministers were in attendance: Minister for Children James Reilly and Minister for Communications Alex White, along with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Christy Burke.

Gay Byrne, a great supporter of Duffy’s project, was given a huge welcome.

But for all the big names in the pews, it was the presence of the schoolchildren which elevated yesterday’s commemoration to something special.

They walked in careful procession to the top of the church, each holding a lighted candle representing one of the 1916 children. They placed them on the marble altar – two shimmering lines of light on either side of the gold tabernacle.

Later, they took turns to read aloud the names of the children, holding up signs bearing individual names and ages.

There was a poem: Yeats's The Stolen Child, and RTÉ's children's choir, Cór na nÓg, sang The Voice of an Angel.

The President spoke of young people who were “taken before they had time to blossom”. But while 1916 has many stories, these children “were less talked about, less spoken about, even though they were killed in the first flush of youth”.

However, thanks to Duffy, their neglected stories have not been lost.

“Many of them shared a working class background. Most of them lived in inner city tenement buildings, many of them sharing such accommodation with several other families, in some of the worst housing conditions in Europe” he said.

“It is perhaps for this reason that they, and their parents, and their class have remained obscure in stories of the Easter Rising.”

And Duffy quoted the words of French philosopher Paul Ricoeur: "To be forgotten is to die twice."

Duffy is writing a book telling the stories of the children of 1916. He hopes it will be published by the end of the year. So are there any plans yet for a centenary commemoration?

“That won’t be for me to do. We had a small service last year, and now this one. But the children have become part of the State now.”


Duffy hopes the Government will come up with a suitable memorial – not just for the children who died, but to remember the hundreds of civilians who lost their lives during the Rising.

“Something should be done. If I have to write their names on the wall of the GPO myself, I will.”

Meanwhile, Kay Keogh was looking at the sign which her granddaughter, Katie Berrigan (almost 12) had in her hands. There was no name there. It read: “Infant. Unidentifed. Age?”

“I think it’s really sad the way they don’t know who it is,” said Katie. “And I feel sad, the way the children had to die. They were all so young.”

The service will be broadcast on Sunday, May 10th on RTÉ One at 11am, and on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra/LW252 at 11.45am.